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  U.S. Future Bright After Close Finish in 2-Man Luge

By Angus Phillips
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 19, 1994; Page D1

LILLEHAMMER, Norway, Feb. 18 — "There is no such thing as a miracle" in luge, said American Gordy Sheer. But he and three teammates came close enough to it today to buoy hopes for the future as U.S. sleds finished a surprising fourth and fifth, just out of the medals, in the Olympic two-man final.

The upbeat showing for American sliders concluded the luge competition as the bobsleds moved in to rumble down the icy track at Hunderfossen this weekend. No past U.S. doubles team ever had finished higher than ninth in luge, and no single slider was better than fifth in the Games.

It looked for a while as if Sheer and longtime partner Chris Thorpe might even sneak in for a bronze medal. The table was set for them when the third-place German team of Stefan Krause and Jan Behrendt brushed a wall twice on its second run, gobbling valuable fractions of a second.

Simple reckoning showed that if Thorpe and Sheer could shave two-tenths of a second off their first-run time with a swift second run, they'd whip past the Germans on combined time and end the U.S. medal drought in the arcane, European-dominated sport. But two-tenths is a lot, especially after a fast first run, and there are no miracles in luge.

Sheer and Thorpe jacked the front of their sled clear off the ice as they pushed violently out of the starting gate, but they veered slightly from the extra effort, brushing the wall and losing whatever time they had gained.

The run from there was flawless but it was nearly two-tenths of a second slower than their opening run, instead of faster, which cleared the way for teammates Mark Grimmette and Jonathan Edwards to squeeze past them into fourth place with a swift second run of their own.

After two runs, Grimmette and Edwards were just over a half-second of combined time behind the winners, Kurt Brugger and Wilfried Huber of Italy, which gave U.S. luge officials encouragement after enduring disapointments in the singles, where medal favorite Duncan Kennedy crashed and Cammy Myler was way off the pace.

"It'll be hard not to medal next time [in doubles] if we keep improving like this," said team chief executive Ron Rossi.

The Olympic competition ends the international luge season, but after six years of training, both U.S. doubles teams pledged to keep going.

Sheer said luge partners are just getting to know each other after six years, the length of time both teams have been together, and he said it would be a shame to throw away that experience in a sport in which communication and teamwork mean everything.

"In singles," said Sheer, who with Thorpe was fourth on the World Cup circuit this year, "you steer with your shoulders and your feet. In doubles it's the same, only it's his feet and my shoulders."

The challenge is trusting your partner and knowing his moves, said Sheer, and he figures the longer the two work together the better.

"Chris, John, Gordy and I are looking to be the best in the world, not just the best in the United States," said Grimmette, who started riding sleds on a dirt-backed luge run he helped build in his hometown of Muskegon, Mich., when he was 15.

Now 23, Grimmette said he's put off college and a career to rattle down the world's icy tracks at 75 mph. He's been at it full time since the Olympic trials of 1992, when he and Edwards came in third and just failed to make the team.

"It takes a long, long time," said Grimmette. "You have your ups and down. This is just another step in a long process."

© Copyright 1994 The Washington Post Company

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